Closed borders, new tracking applications, and harassment on social media for disinformation: how the world seeks to get back to life as it was before the pandemic.
As part of the PandemicBigBrother project, RosKomSvoboda together with project partners monitors violations of digital rights in the COVID-19 pandemic era. An important goal is to ensure that surveillance measures taken during these critical conditions are cut shut down at the end of the pandemic.
- A self-isolation regime that used to be mandatory in Russia is now advisory in nature, digital passes are partially canceled, and walks are allowed;
- Eurasian citizens doubt the reliability of official data on coronavirus mortality in the region;
- With the launch of contact tracking applications in Europe, fraudsters who distribute malware under the guise of official applications have also become more active; and
- Chinese authorities intend to monitor the health of their citizens on an permanent basis.
In Russia, since 1 June the restrictions regime associated with the coronavirus pandemic has been partially relaxed. The work of sanatoriums has resumed, and Russian cinemas are preparing for the imminent reopening.
In Bashkiria, the mandatory self-isolation regime has been abolished, in Sverdlovsk region it was extended until June 8, in Tomsk region, Irkutsk region, Omsk region, Moscow, and Moscow region -it was extended to 14 June. In the latter cases, digital passes were canceled from 1 June 1, but in other regions they still need to be issued before people can go outside. Not everything is clear in St. Petersburg, where the governor announced the lifting of restrictions, but Rospotrebnadzor reassured people that the city is not yet ready for transition to the first stage of lifting restrictions.
Walks are allowed again in Tatarstan: there are three-meter circles painted in Kazan parks, so people are now able to arrange a picnic or go to watch sports without breaking social distancing rules.
As it was expected, the citizens of Moscow suffer in the hardest way. Since June 1, residents of the capital were also allowed to leave their apartments and walk in the streets. However, their walks are close to their homes and scheduled: there is a certain schedule of walks established for each house with a mandatory observation of a mask-mode.
Fines for violating the self-isolation regime in the capital continue to grow, and the data of all those fined suddenly became available for public access. After this, the tender for 150 million to conduct an analysis of information systems security was placed by the Moscow Department of Information Technology.
At the same time, an application to appeal fines for quarantine violations was launched in Moscow. So far, it can be used to dispute automatically fines for driving without a digital pass, but the developers promise to soon expand the functionality.
The head of the Ministry of Digital Development provided reassurance that after the cancellation of digital passes, all personal data of Russians related to their movements, addresses, and goals of leaving their houses would be removed from the state system. The accounts on the public services portal created by new users to issue passes will become an exception.
At the same time as the partial abolition of restrictions, the number of penalties for publications on the network is increasing, and the "insidious" topic is increasingly intertwined with the "usual extremist." The police initiate criminal cases against dissident covids, and doctors who have not received the promised payments are warned of the inadmissibility of "extremist activity." We wrote more about fines and arrests for publications here.
This region is also moving to a partial lifting of restrictions: citizens of Azerbaijan were allowed to go outside again, Georgia lifted the emergency regime that existed there until May 22, schools remain closed. In Armenia, the emergency regime was extended until June 13, shops and restaurants opened there on May 18, but since May 24, the Prime Minister has adopted a number of new security measures, ordering everyone to wear masks in public places and outdoors, as well as temporarily close enterprises that do not obey the government.
Azerbaijan is preparing for the imminent opening of the beach season: the authorities intend to introduce an electronic beach reservation system. People will need to pre-book seats to get to the beach.
In Nur-Sultan and Almaty (Kazakhstan) on June 1, all roadblocks were curtailed, but local media doubted the reliability of official statistics, since the authorities do not take into account those cases when a person had other comorbidities. In particular, there are many more graves found in a cemetery created specifically for victims of coronavirus than the number of officially recorded deaths.
Tajikistan also has all the prerequisites that the authorities are hiding the real number of victims. According to official statistics, 46 people died there during the pandemic, but local residents doubt the reliability of these figures.
In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a crowd of protesters took to the streets demanding the cancellation of the government’s decision to reclassify the newly built Turkish-Kyrgyz hospital as a COVID-19 observation center, fearing further spread of the virus.
Also in Kyrgyzstan, a bill on the manipulation of information was submitted for public discussion, which, if adopted, will introduce even greater censorship on the Internet. The bill involves pre-trial blocking of sites where inaccurate information is discovered.
The Turkmen authorities continue to insist that there are no coronavirus cases in the country, but at the same time they do not allow WHO representatives to enter the country to verify this.
China is beginning to introduce constant monitoring of the state of citizens’ health based on existing applications with QR codes. Previously, similar "health codes" were introduced to prevent the spread of coronavirus and were integrated into WeChat and Alipay.
The new codes, which are introduced by the authorities of the Chinese city of Hangzhou, will be based not only on data on contacts with COVID-positive people, but also on the results of medical examinations and lifestyle features such as smoking and the general level of activity.
In India, amid concerns about the privacy of data collected through the Aarogya Setu contact tracking app, the government said this product now has open source. Thus, the state granted the request of activists in the field of confidentiality and protection of personal data.
The Indian government also launched the Bug Bounty program, which will provide security researchers with financial rewards for detecting any vulnerability in the application or proposals to improve source code.
In Japan, the state of emergency has already been curtailed in recent areas, including Tokyo, until the second wave of the epidemic started in one of Japanese cities. At least, the mayor said so and closed all city facilities again, including museums, cinemas and libraries.
Also in Japan, a national application is being prepared for launch. Following the example of European ones, it will use the development of Apple and Google to track contacts of infected people using Bluetooth technology.
An application with QR codes may also appear in Thailand. However, it is not the people who will have codes, but with shops and businesses, and visitors will need to scan them at the entrance and exit. Thus, the authorities want to make it easier to track infected people when all shops and public places reopen. The Thai Chana app can also warn if the store that a person intended to go to at the moment is crowded.
European countries are gradually starting to open internal borders for EU citizens. On June 1, Bulgaria opened borders with Serbia and Greece, Croatia, Hungary and the Czech Republic also opened their borders with neighboring countries. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia allowed movements for citizens of these countries. The Netherlands allowed entry for all EU citizens, but asked to refrain from unnecessary travel. The external borders of the EU remain closed until June 15.
Latvia and Switzerland were among the first countries to launch a contact tracking application using technology developed by Google and Apple. In Latvia, the application has been available since May 25, in Switzerland it is currently being tested by hospital staff and civil servants.
The Italian application "Immuni" was built on the same technology. The beta version of the application is already distributed throughout the country, but officially it will begin to be tested in four regions only from June 8.
On June 2 France launched the application based on own developments of "StopCovid". It has become available to all residents of the country in AppStore or Google Play.
Despite the existence of separate tracking applications in each country, the authorities of five countries (Portugal, Germany, Spain, France and Italy), each of which is largely dependent on the development of the tourism industry, called for the development of a unified joint application.
It is important to note that hackers also became active at the same time as the applications for tracking the contacts of infected people were launched.
In Germany, a critical vulnerability in Android devices was discovered. Hacks can be disguised as official applications from authorities. In Italy, harmful software that is distributed under the guise of the official application "Immuni" was noticed.
Estonia has begun testing the so-called ‘digital immunity certificates’, which are a pass for people who have already recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies. Currently, the mobile application "ImmunityPass" collects data from those tested for coronavirus. The authorities do not exclude the possibility that in the future such certificates will be issued through special devices, and this will be another technological solution to prevent the spread of the epidemic.
The United States continue to lead in the number of infected (more than 1.8 million). There is no information on the cancellation of the previous surveillance measures yet, on the contrary, they are rather only increasing. At the same time, Bluetooth contact tracking technology developed by Google and Apple is used in only three states of United States of America.
Some states prefer to use different technologies in their case tracking applications. For example, the Crush Covid application in Rhode Island determines location based on GPS, and the Healthy Together application works the same way in Utah.
At the same time, US President Donald Trump decided to cut ties with the World Health Organization and declare war on social networks, what led to criticism by several activists. As for social networks, it started with the fact that Twitter posted a note under several tweets of the president about the necessity to verify the information for credibility. In response, Trump signed a decree that removes protection from social networks from claims for content posted by users.
In neighboring Mexico, the state of Nuevo Leon has developed its own application to track the circle of contacts of infected people. The authorities assured citizens that the application is anonymous, and its installation is voluntary.
While borders in Europe are gradually opening up to EU citizens, the focus of the epidemic is shifting to South America. As of June 2, Brazil was in second place in the world in the number of cases of coronavirus in the country (more than 500 thousand cases).
The region is experiencing a sharp increase in organized crime, which is also associated with border closures and rising food prices during the pandemic.
While Latin America health systems are confused by the rapid increase of cases in the region, technological initiatives are emerging to combat the pandemic. In particular, the digital platform David19 based on blockchain technology that anonymously collects information about the location of people and transmits it to the authorities so that they, in turn, can take more effective measures to curb the spread of the disease.
In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro and the state of São Paulo concluded agreements with local telecom operators to transmit data on the movement of citizens. In addition Rio de Janeiro’s authorities use drones to alert citizens about the inadmissibility of gathering in groups.
The lack of transparency between the state and private companies raises suspicions among activists that the data collected will be used for other purposes in the future.
Prosecutions for fake publications on the Internet continue in the African region, although this practice was observed there before the start of the coronavirus epidemic. The authorities have now become more likely to hide behind the theme of the coronavirus pandemic in order to arrest critics of local authorities for allegedly disseminating false information. Thus, in the second half of May, the authorities in Egypt arrested 10 journalists.
Egyptian activists report increasing state surveillance and urge authorities to stop violating the digital rights of citizens and restricting freedom of speech on the Internet.
There were presidential elections held recently in Burundi, where people gathered in large crowds without taking precautionary measures. The ruling party decided to cut off access to the Internet throughout the country to prevent the spread of criticism of the authorities. Previously, Internet shutdowns were also observed in Ethiopia.
Australia and Oceania
The Australian contact tracking application COVIDSafe reported 6 million downloads on 1 June, which means it was installed by almost a quarter of the country’s population. In addition, Australians introduced a new ‘gold standard’ for government contact tracking technologies.
However, a month after launch, there are questions about the effectiveness of this application, since during this time health authorities have only once used data from the application to find a person at risk.
Previously we wrote about an application being prepared in New Zealand, but it has now been launched. After registration, the application suggests creating a digital diary of places visited and generates a QR code that can be scanned by health services. If the application identifies a person as having been in contact with a COVID-19 sufferer, they will be contacted for testing.
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